Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi
In 1903, Patagonian explorer Francisco Pascasio Moreno donated three square leagues of “the most beautiful scenery my eyes had ever seen,” at Lago Nahuel Huapi’s west end, near the Chilean border, to “be conserved as a natural public park.” Citing the United States’ example in creating large public reserves, Moreno’s burst of idealism returned part of a personal land grant to the Argentine state. First known as Parque Nacional del Sur, the property became today’s Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.
Since then, countless Argentine and foreign visitors have benefited from Moreno’s civic generosity in a reserve that now encompasses a far larger area of glacial lakes and limpid rivers, forested moraines and mountains, and snow-topped Andean peaks that mark the border. So many have done so, in fact, that it’s debatable whether authorities have complied with Moreno’s wish that “the current features of their perimeter not be altered, and that there be no additional constructions other than those that facilitate the comforts of the cultured visitor.”
Prior to the “Conquest of the Desert,” Araucanian peoples freely crossed the Andes via the Paso de los Vuriloches south of 3,554-meter Cerro Tronador. The pass lent its name to Bariloche, which, over a century since its 1903 founding, has morphed from lakeside hamlet to a sprawling city whose wastes imperil the air, water, and surrounding woodlands.
For all that, Nahuel Huapi remains a beauty spot that connects two countries via a series of scenic roads and waterways. In 1979, Argentine and Chilean military dictatorships fortified the borders and mined the approaches because of a territorial dispute elsewhere, but a papal intervention cleared the air.
Now Stretching from the northerly Lago Queñi, west of San Martín de los Andes, to the southerly Río Manso, midway between Bariloche and El Bolsón, the park now covers 750,000 hectares in southwestern Neuquén and western Río Negro. Together with Parque Nacional Lanín to the north, it forms an uninterrupted stretch of well over 1 million hectares, but part of that is a reserva nacional that permits commercial development.At the park’s western edge, Tronador is the highest of a phalanx of snow-covered border peaks.
Campgrounds are numerous, especially in areas accessible by road. Club Andino refugios charge around US$12–14 pp for overnight stays, US$4–6 for breakfast, US$10–15 for lunch or dinner, and US$2 for kitchen use. Make reservations for bunks, which are limited, but day-hikers can buy simple meals and cold drinks.
Hotels and other accommodations are scattered around various park sectors. At Lago Mascardi’s northwest end, on the Pampa Linda road, Hotel Tronador (tel. 02944/44-1062, www.hoteltronador.com, US$99–119 pp with full board) is a lakes-district classic in the Bustillo tradition. It’s open November 1–mid-April.
Near road’s end, Hostería Pampa Linda (tel. 02944/49-0517, www.hosteriapampalinda.com.ar, US$115 s, US$146 d, with half board; US$166 s, US$246 d, with full board) is a rustically contemporary inn that also organizes hikes and horseback rides (at additional cost).
For detailed park information and hiking permits, contact the APN (San Martín 24, tel. 02944/42-3111) or Bariloche’s Club Andino (20 de Febrero 30, tel. 02944/42-2266, www.clubandino.org, 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m. and 4:30–8:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat.). The refugios are good sources of information within the park.
The Club Andino’s improved trail map, Refugios, Sendas y Picadas, at a scale of 1:100,000 with more detailed versions covering smaller areas at a scale of 1:50,000, is a worthwhile acquisition, but Aonek’er GIS Solutions publishes more sophisticated versions of some areas. The fifth edition of Tim Burford’s Chile and Argentina: The Bradt Trekking Guide (Chalfont St Peter, UK: Bradt Travel Guides, 2001) covers several trails in detail, but its maps are suitable for orientation only.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition